Saturday, November 11, 2017

Movie Reviews: Micmacs, The Lords of Salem

directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Micmacs is a French film. Jean-Pierre Jeunet also directed Amelie, reviewed here. English subtitles are available. I haven't heard or spoken French in a very long time so movies like this are always fun for me to watch. I understand less and less of French as time passes by but I still enjoy occasionally turning off the subtitles to see how much I can comprehend. Not much as it turned out. Still whether you speak French fluently or have to watch each and every subtitle this was a good movie to watch. Unlike with Amelie the romantic theme in Micmacs is not central to the movie. You might even say it's an afterthought. The primary similarity between Micmacs and Amelie is the color palette which simultaneously invokes surrealistic imaginings and hyperrealisism. Jeunet evidently used digital color manipulation to create a Paris that never existed but still feels all too real. Micmacs provides a wealth of visual riches that draw in the viewer. This film is hypnotic. You can get lost just watching the camera linger on a particular piece of architecture. This is a great film to watch on a snowy or rainy day when you're just going to snuggle on the couch. 

It's well cast and acted even if the writing is occasionally a bit suspect. Micmacs is a very optimistic film, despite the subject matter. If you are the sort of person who believes that most people are good and that it's all going to work out in the end then you will probably enjoy this movie. And even if you are a cynic the film may still make you smile. The movie is plot driven not character driven. The protagonist and his friends are all just there to move the story, nothing more. I laughed at the lead character but I never really felt super sympathetic towards him. So this movie is not as memorable as Amelie. But the visuals and music may make up for that. When Bazil (Danny Boon) was a child his father was killed in Africa while trying to defuse land mines.

The family was given the cover of the land mine that killed Bazil's father. Bazil's mother died of a broken heart. Bazil himself grew up from an introverted shy boy to become an introverted shy man. He works as a video store clerk in a store that has few customers. Bazil's happy with his job because the lack of human interaction gives him more time to watch movies, talk back to the screen and act out scenes. One night there's a commotion outside the store. Bazil goes outside to see what's happening. Well that wasn't too wise because Bazil gets caught in a crossfire between two criminal gangs. He's accidentally shot in the head. Trying to remove the bullet could cause serious brain damage or death. Leaving the bullet where it is means that Bazil will have headaches/seizures for the rest of his life and be at risk of immediate death should the bullet move. The doctors flip a coin and decide to leave the bullet inside of Bazil's skull. It wasn't as if Bazil was a Mensa candidate. Bazil returns to his workplace but discovers that during his surgeries and recovery his employer has hired someone else. Bazil is fired. His replacement gives Bazil the bullet casing which she found on the street.

Newly homeless, Bazil tries his luck being a street mime. He's not very good. A more experienced street denizen, Slammer (Jean-Pierre Marielle), takes pity on Bazil. Slammer brings Bazil to his home, a cave carved in a trash dump where he lives with a number of quirky yet decent people. The people eke out a living recycling (scavenging) garbage. They are able to find or create beauty from the oddest things. All of these folks take a liking to Bazil, particularly the shapely and sharp tongued contortionist Elasti-Girl (Julie Ferrier). One day while scavenging, Bazil recognizes on two neighboring office buildings the corporate logos from the land mine that killed his father and the bullet which nearly killed him. 

Bazil tries to get into the buildings to speak with the heads of the armaments companies. But that doesn't work out. Bazil start following the two arms dealers but he doesn't get too far. 
Basil's new friends are irritated that he's trying to keep secrets from them or deal with pain privately. He's part of their family now. As the matriarch tells him "Either we're all in or we're all out".  This kicks off a madcap adventure where the plucky blissfully chaotic good guys try to take down the oily evil corporate bad guys who make mines that maim children and sell weapons to dictators.  Bazil and his friends have no money or weapons. But they have pluck, love and a lot of ingenuity. And as mentioned they are the good guys. There are a lot of sight gags. This would have worked almost as well as a silent film. Micmacs owes something to people like Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton. You should do yourself a favor and check out this older film. It has a very different rhythm and feel from American films. This is not completely a slapstick movie. However, it has more than its share of chuckles. It does answer some questions about fate, destiny, love and friendship. 

The Lords of Salem
directed by Rob Zombie
I will give a chance to most movies directed by musician turned film director Rob Zombie. The Lords of Salem is a creepy little horror film that is heavy on atmosphere and by Zombie standards rather restrained in violence depiction. It stars Zombie's wife and muse Sherri Moon Zombie in the lead role.  Most of the important characters are women. It features some Zombie's regulars, including Ken Foree and Sid Haig. The Lords of Salem doesn't rely overmuch on jump cuts or other camera cliches found in mainstream horror films. This is an independent film so presumably Zombie had a free hand to share his vision. I loved the film's cinematography. The introduction was wonderful. The sets were great. In a positive sense, this film reminded me of The SentinelBlack SundayRosemary's Baby, some of Ken Russell's work, specifically Altered States or The Lair of The White Worm, or even the old American International Pictures adaptations of H.P. Lovecraft's work like The Haunted Palace or The Dunwich Horror. The Lords of Salem gives off a ponderous sense of foreboding, of old secrets coming back to hurt people, of maleficent antiquity. You can almost smell the aged wood and redone wallpaper in the old apartment buildings in which much of the action takes place. The decision to shoot much of the film in shadow or darkness also adds to the film's spooky frission.

In Salem, Massachussets , Heidi LaRock (Sherri Moon Zombie) is the female member of a trio of radio rock/talk dj's. The other two are Whitey (Jeff Daniel Phillips) and Munster (Ken Foree). Heidi receives a record from someone who only identifies themselves as The Lords. The trio play the record. It's weird minor key repetitive drone music. Heidi has bad dreams while all the other women in Salem temporarily go into a trance. Heidi and her co-workers interview writer Francis Matthias (Bruce Davison). Francis has written a book about the Salem Witch Trials and knows a lot about the history of Salem and witchcraft. He's a little worried about The Lords sending that strange music to Heidi by name. Francis thinks both the name and the music seem familiar. Meanwhile Heidi is having more bad dreams and visions, including some that are sexually violent. She's drawn to an apartment down the hall from her that her landlord Lacy (Judy Geeson) and her odd sisters Sunny (Dee Wallace) and Megan (Patricia Quinn) swear is empty. But the viewer can see both through Heidi's eyes and otherwise that the door to apartment 5 opens and closes on its own. Something or someone is watching Heidi.  Why are Lacy, Sunny and Megan always smiling at Heidi? Meanwhile Francis has been doing some research of his own. 

With the assistance of his pianist wife Alice (Maria Conchita Alonso), Francis has learned that the music Heidi received is the same music found in a book about the Salem Witch Trials, a book that purported to be a diary of the trials. Francis finds it hard to accept but he's starting to believe that Heidi may be a linchpin to some dark events.  

Heidi is having more problems. She has had previous substance abuse challenges. Whitey and Munster are concerned that she might go back down that path. Whitey's concern is not solely platonic. It's unclear but he and Heidi may once have been an item. It is clear that Whitey wouldn't mind taking things to a physical level, something that Heidi has approximately no interest in doing. There is some humor during a crisis when an abrupt Heidi tells an irritated Whitey that he's taking the couch. I hadn't seen Sherri Moon Zombie as the lead before. The role requires some pretty wide swings from the effervescent extroverted woman at the beginning of the movie to the unsure depressed woman in the middle of it to something else by the ending. But I didn't quite think the payoff was worthy of the build up. And I found some of the twists and turns a little confusing and at one point silly. In a bad way this reminded me of the similar film Kill List, reviewed here. I appreciate hallucinatory scares as much as anyone else, but sometimes I think a movie can fake itself out along with the audience. I think that's what happened here. It looked really good doing so however. YMMV as always. I didn't like the film's ending or last half hour. 

As mentioned, by Zombie standards and even genre standards this is not a gorefest or T&A type movie. There are some scenes of disturbing violence, some non-erotic nudity, and a lingering panorama of Sherri Moon Zombie bottomless. This is a film for people looking for horror off the beaten path. I thought the imagery was more impressive than the story. You might need to watch this film more than once to to find out if you understood it or liked it. It will leave you with some challenging images in your head.  Good, bad or indifferent this is very much a personal vision by Rob Zombie.
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